Two Toothbrushes and a Cell Phone

After posting my last blog, I have a received a lot of texts, emails, messages, and comments with people’s thoughts, feelings, stories, and experiences. I truly do treasure each of these and take them to heart because they are coming from people who care enough to reach out. For a little while, I chastised myself over the last blog for not writing enough about hope. I decided to let that go, however, because it is (and will remain) an honest portrayal of where I was at that moment. I usually receive the following feedback: “I love your writing because you say what everyone else is thinking.” While I am sure most people mean this in a positive way, I am not quite sure how to receive such feedback, mostly because it means one of two things: A) I have no filter for what I say (which is, unfortunately, mostly true)  or B) The general population doesn’t feel safe enough in their current circles to express what they are thinking or feeling. B bothers me more than A. I know that I tend to say what’s on my mind (I have done A LOT of work on this over the last few years), but my word vomit concerns me less than the lack of “safe spaces” in everyday relationships.

The title of this blog may sound more like a Beck song or a vague attempt at being hipster-cool, but I promise you this is only an attempt for me to communicate the huge life lessons I have learned in the midst of the mundane. If you want to skip the bulk of reading and get to the point, it is this: anything used outside of its intended purpose is going to lose its ability to function. This reality stared me in the face this morning as I listened to our friend and pastor Zach Van Dyke teach an entire sermon on sexual abuse as it relates to Jesus’ claim that He is The Good Shepherd. In the midst of MeToos and TimesUps and black dresses and pastors being fired and doctors serving multiple life sentences, there is so much noise that it was time for some truth. I encourage you to listen to the sermon here to have a better context for what I am writing.

According to Christian tradition and faith, God created the heavens and the earth and He created man and woman. He created man and woman in His own image to care for and cultivate the earth and to multiply. He created man and woman for work, for relationship, for fertility, for growth, for pleasure, and for love. Skipping ahead a few chapters, a bunch of bad things happened, poor choices were made, wars were fought, people cheated and speared each other and brought down walls, a ton of people died, and most of what God did in the midst of it all makes absolutely no logical sense to me. Then God made Himself vulnerable by coming to earth as a baby, and through His son Jesus He took out all the wrath He ever had for all of the horrible things we had ever done and ever will do. Jesus absorbed all of the consequences men and women deserve for being, well, imperfectly human. Jesus said a lot of things while He was here, but apparently the greatest commandment He gave was this: To love my neighbor as myself.

This commandment implies something really important that many people, ESPECIALLY traditional Christians, miss completely: we have to learn to love ourselves before we can love anyone else. We were designed to love and be loved. If we try to do anything other than love and be loved, we will fail to function as intended.

Which brings me back to my original point. Have you ever used a battery-operated toothbrush? I always thought they were kind of dumb. Why do we have to put batteries in everything? I’ve been brushing my teeth with a normal, Lindsey-operated toothbrush for over 30 years and it seems to have served me just fine. I have moved through life with maybe two cavities, and generally receive good reports when I go to the dentist. When Tim and I were dating, I couldn’t help but notice that he had a battery-operated toothbrush on his bathroom counter. I didn’t give it much thought, other than I thought it was a waste of money. I made some snarky comments about it a few times, to which he simply responded nothing could beat how well it cleans and I shouldn’t knock it until I try it. Shortly after we got married, Tim went out and purchased a battery-operated toothbrush for me. I wasn’t super pumped about it, but agreed to give it a try. That thing scared the CRAP out of me! It was loud and super vibratey (that’s a word now) and I had no idea how to control the thing. After a few days of use, I have to admit my teeth did feel really clean. (If only the thing straightened teeth at the same time.) Then I just became accustomed to putting a motorized device in my mouth every morning and evening. After a couple of weeks, I noticed that the head of my brush was looking a bit worn and the bristles were starting to spread out. My argument was now sealed. This thing had not served me for more than two dozen brushes and it was in need of replacement. What a waste.

But then I looked at Tim’s brush head. He had been using his far longer than I had, and his looked nearly new. I started watching him brush his teeth, and paying more attention to how I was brushing my own and I quickly realized the issue. Rather than just running the vibrating bristles in and around my mouth, I was forcing the contraption against my teeth with tremendous pressure, convinced that it couldn’t brush on its own power. I was still trying to use it like a traditional toothbrush and I was destroying it. My brush was losing bristles and battery power far quicker than it was supposed to be losing them. In short, I wasn’t using it according to its design. I was abusing its very design.

The same could be said for my iPhone. I used to have a reputation for throwing iPhones across the room during counseling session in order to make this very point. An iPhone is made of glass (and indium tin oxide, but I have no idea what that means). It is designed to be held gently, tapped and swiped gently, and stored gently. It is strong and capable of many things, but it is fragile. It was never designed to be dropped in a pitcher of Bahama Mama mixture, toilet(s), sand, swimming pool(s), bathtub(s), run over with a car, or chewed on by a dog (these are all hypothetical situations, of course). Since I am not capable of handling an iPhone gently, I have an incredibly sturdy case with a screen cover around mine which prevents all of the potential damage I would surely bring to my phone. I sometimes describe our hearts to clients in way. Our hearts are strong, and capable of many things, but they are fragile. They were not designed to be broken, betrayed, abused, neglected, or mishandled. Over time, after experiencing enough damage, most people will start to built invisible walls around their hearts to prevent further damage. The problem with these walls, though, is that they don’t discriminate between bad and good. Walls are kind of an all-in-all-out type of thing. So further damage is done just in trying to protect what has been damaged against its original design.

Men and women were designed to love and be loved. We weren’t created to abuse and be abused. Most faith traditions and beliefs will at least agree on this one creed. When we act or are acted upon outside of our design, we will fail to function and things will start to fall apart.

I recently received a blasting comment on a FaceBook post regarding the death of former Glee actor Mark Salling. Salling hung himself before being sentenced to prison for child pornography charges, and the details of his case and behavior are absolutely horrific. I posted something the effect that I was heartbroken that yet another person chose to end their own life in the face of criminal prosecution. Unfortunately, this happens a lot. One of the many things I learned while working in jail was that the criminal justice system and mental health professions should be working TOGETHER, hand in hand, to bring healing to perpetrators and prevent further crime in our communities. But that is another soapbox.

After, expressing my heartbreak over a life lost and so many lives damaged, someone I have never met wrote a scathing paragraph with a lot of expletives basically demanding that I take my head out of my own a$$ and realize that this man deserved no dignity after what he had done. At this point, my heart broke even more. I don’t know the woman who wrote the comment. I hope I get to have a conversation with her one day and understand where she is coming from in her story. But I must disagree.

What my friend Zach did today is something I have never seen done from the pulpit or anywhere else. He offered dignity and hope to both the abused and the abuser. He invited both into safe, honest, vulnerable community. Yes, it is painful. Yes, there will be consequences. Yes, the damage lasts a lifetime. But we need to be having these conversations. We need to be taught and to learn how to love each other as ourselves. It’s how we were created, down to the very genetic molecules of our beings. If we continue to use and abuse each other for anything other than love, we will continue to kill and destroy.

The church should be the first on the front lines to provide a safe place for people to be honest about their sexual brokenness, but unfortunately it has become the last place anyone wants to go for healing, empathy, and compassion. The Christian church has not love the abused or abusers well. The good news is that this can change. It MUST change. The church was designed to love, yet it has become (for the most part) a place of false faces, judgmental glances, and misdirected “prayer requests” aka Food for Gossip. There are so many books and sermons and talks and conversations on how to do this, so the resources are there.

Time should have been up a long time ago on the damaging effects of abuse. It is in the fiber of our very beings to heal those who have been hurt and who are hurting others. We need to tap back into our original design, who we were created to be as people crafted in love. It’s not too late to change things now, but it’s late enough.

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